As writers, we are always chasing an upward trajectory. Higher word counts, query more agents, publish more books, earn more money... There's always another mountain to climb. That's why we attend conferences, read, and join writing groups. If we keep growing and improving, we'll finally make it to our goals where we can sit back comfortably and bask in our accomplishment. Right?
Yes. That is exactly right.
This month, I found myself feeling pretty good. I have a stable writing group that keeps me motivated, I got my first royalty check ever, and my sequel is wrapping up into a neat little package. Things are on track and the Rachel train has got momentum (woot woot!). I have to admit, a lot of this momentum comes from a year of working my tail off, but right now, I felt like I was coasting, and it felt nice.
To celebrate my comfortable place in the sun, I indulged myself and purchased a ticket to spend two days at the Storymakers conference in Provo, Utah. I have never been to a writing conference outside of LTUE, so I was excited to try something new. It's held in the same conference center as LTUE, so I expected that it wouldn't be much different than what I already knew. Nice and comfortable.
The familiar conference center was completely transformed. Instead of recognizing half of the faces around me, I only knew a handful of people. Instead of knowing exactly which panelists to follow, I was sitting in lectures by people I had never even heard of. I texted my husband...
As a published author, I want to believe I've made it and I know everything I need to succeed going forward. The truth is, there's a lot I don't know. Besides that, my definition of success keeps changing, and every time it does I realize I need to learn more to move forward in my career.
I've published two fantasy novels and two short stories in anthologies. My next goal is to self-publish an entire trilogy by the end of 2019. I aim to increase my writing income tenfold, and, as expected, that's not coming easy. Here are a few things I am striving to learn right now to reach that level of success as a writer:
How to (Intentionally) Write a Series
My first two books are technically a series, but I didn't plan them that way! When I published Woven I had no idea Bound would ever exist. Once it was published, I got the idea for the sequel. (I don't recommend that, by the way.)
Now I'm attempting to plot and write an entire trilogy before any of them are published. To be totally honest, it kind of sucks. I'm getting a perfect sense of the quote, “Writers are people for whom words come harder to than most people.”
Why would that be? Well, because we want to succeed so darn bad! As for me, I find myself acutely aware of every time my writing doesn't measure up to the incredible published books I'm reading. It makes it so much harder to write. I wish I could magically obtain the knowledge as some rite of passage for having already published, but it doesn't work that way.
What am I doing about it? I'm taking a course called “Publishing Mastermind” from USA Today Bestselling author Rebecca Mckernan, for starters. In her course, she leads you through a series of highly valuable lessons on craft, publishing, and marketing. Any author would benefit from her courses. Publishing Mastermind is the big one, but she also has several smaller courses, including “Plotting the Breakout Bestseller” and “The Secret to Series that Sell”. Most of her courses are included in the Publishing Mastermind course I mentioned.
I'm also using a tool called Plottr to get my outlines straight, as I mentioned in my post, “Hanging up Your Writing Pants”. It's turning me into a plotter, rather than a pantser, one outline at a time. They have an app now, too!
I'm also getting help from my writing group. They're learning right along with me, and their advice always seems to be just what I need, no matter the issue I'm facing.
By the time this trilogy is done, I'm determined to be a plotting, series-writing MASTER.
(The Pokemon theme song is playing in my head right now…anyone else?)
I recently read a fantastic post-apocalyptic trilogy by an indie author, Tricia Wentworth. We connected through a Facebook group when she posted about her success with "The Culling" trilogy, which she wrote while raising her two boys, giving birth to her third right before the final book in her trilogy released. I'm so glad she was willing to do this interview with me!
Also, be sure to enter our giveaway at the bottom of this post. You won't want to miss this incredible post-apocalyptic series!
"Being a stay-at-home mom to a four-year-old and two-year-old is insane. Writing books, monster-sized ones in my case, is insane. Doing both at the same time while being pregnant...there aren’t words. Writer-mom life is a special sort of madness, y’all. But the only thing I love more than writing is the three little boys that call me “Mommy”. I’m just crazy enough to think I can be a great mom and a great writer." - Tricia Wentworth
Bree Moore: Can you give us a brief summary of your publishing journey? How did you get where you are today?
Tricia Wentworth: It wasn’t until after graduating college the idea to write my own story came about. I was nannying a junior-high-aged girl around the time the Hunger Games movies came out. We got super excited and into the second movie release. I remember telling her I would’ve done something different with the plot in that movie/book, an alternate ending of sorts. Though I don’t remember how it was I would’ve changed it, I do remember what her reaction was. She said, “Maybe you should write a book.” To which I responded with something like, “That’s crazy, who does that?”
And here I am. Stilllll writing. From that point on, I began to learn about this art form we call writing. I wrote a very rough draft of the first book in a different series, but I just knew my writing skills were not where they needed to be to finish the other two books. Then I was sitting there one day, watching The Bachelorette on TV (it’s my guilty pleasure, don’t judge!), and I had this thought of “What if everyone died from something horrible and they had to date one another to find a partner to run the country!?”
Over 530,000 words later, that story evolved into my three published books today. Looking back, I should’ve known. I’ve always had a hyperactive imagination and I’ve always loved reading. How I wish I would’ve known sooner I wanted to write!
Bree Moore: Why did you choose self-publishing?
Tricia Wentworth: I started the process of sending out query letters to agents. I got lots of nos and one kind soul who said to keep trying and that my story sounded interesting but she didn’t have the opening in her schedule to take on another author. I felt like I was spending all my time researching and looking for an agent, and not just any agent, but an agent I felt was a good fit for me and my style. After a few months, it began to feel too much like online dating. With a swipe here and a swipe there. Here a swipe. There a swipe. Everywhere a swipe, swipe.
And call me a control freak, but with self-publishing, I loved the idea of having control over it all. Once I made the decision to go indie, there was no going back. I love that it gives the underdog a fighting chance.
Bree Moore: What has been your favorite part of self-publishing?
Tricia Wentworth: Interacting with my fans on my Facebook page and reading reviews of my published stuff. I have met some of the coolest people on this journey. It totally makes my day to get emails from parents too, telling me their child has been reading my books. Even though I am a measly three books into my author career, it is still just so surreal that people read my books. And though you can’t please everyone, some people actually LIKE them. Say whaaaaaaat?!
Bree Moore: How do you define having a successful author career?
Tricia Wentworth: As a writer-mom, if I manage to feed the children and hit my daily writing goal, that is success. Bonus points if I get a shower and a light application of makeup in that day! My ultimate goal has always been to replace my teaching income, and spoiler alert... teachers do not make thaaaaat much money. So I am working toward that goal. I want to be able to write full time once my three boys are all in school.
Bree Moore: Where did you get your idea for The Culling series?
Tricia Wentworth: Like I said before, it was a random idea I had that spiraled into what it is today. I will add onto that to say I had been wanting to read and looking for something post-apocalyptic. And not just post-apocalyptic, as in immediately after the end of the world, but post-post-apocalyptic. I had been wanting to read something that happened a hundred or so years after the end of the world, how it all worked out, how they grew the population back, etc. I wasn’t finding it in what I had been reading, so I wrote it. In my case the “write the book you want to read” saying definitely happened. I did exactly that in a genre near and dear to my heart.
Bree Moore: Do you have any marketing tips for authors you'd like to share?
Tricia Wentworth: Do your best to figure out AMS ads, specifically your blurb for the ad. Be ready to fail a few times while you get it figured out, but advertising is super important to us indie authors. It was a total game changer for me so I cannot say it enough! AMS, peeps. AMS!
Bree Moore: As a parent-author, what challenges do you face in making time to write, publish, and market your books?
Tricia Wentworth: I am a stay-at-home-mom to a newborn baby, born five days before my third book went live, an almost three-year-old, and a five-year-old. All boys. My house is filled to the brim with scooters and nerf guns and all things chaos. I aim for an hour of writing/editing time at naptime, or I did before the new babe came along since I’m on maternity leave from writing at the moment. Most of my writing time has to be from 8-11 pm, after bedtime, because it’s all I have. And it is hard to find the time and stay motivated. Mommyhood is exhausting, but I’ve found I need to write to feel like “me”. It’s my me time; it keeps me sane. It’s hard work and doubly exhausting trying to be a good mom and a good writer, so tons of grace is required. Some days I cannot and will not be able to do it all. I have to know that and remind myself of it daily. I also keep reminding myself that someday they will go to school. Of course then I will be a glorified taxi service too! So it will always be a struggle and take balance. And guts. Tons of guts.
Bree Moore: What advice do you have for other parent-authors?
Tricia Wentworth: Goals! I am super goal oriented. Every month I get out my calendar and make a big goal for the month, weekly goals, and daily goals. Annnnd, I schedule in time off, which in my case is Sundays to spend with my family. I work harder during the week knowing that day off is coming up and then I use those days off to regroup and relax. At this point, after making goals this way for going on three years, I am addicted to meeting my goals. Daily, weekly, and monthly. It feels good to keep accomplishing and slowly checking off the to-do list on the way to pub-day!
Bree Moore: Do you have any new releases coming in 2019? Or, what are you currently working on?
Tricia Wentworth: I have a cozy Christmas romance manuscript that is actually normal sized. I’m debating whether I can get it spruced up and ready to go for this fall. If not, for sure next fall. And then I’ll be starting on my spin-off series to the Culling series. After all this editing in getting my most recent book out, I am beyond excited for a blank word document and that blinking cursor. My fingers are itching to write!
Bree Moore: Lastly, what's your favorite kind of chocolate?
Tricia Wentworth: Allllll the chocolate. Except mint chocolate. I mean, why would you ruin something as sacred as chocolate with mintiness?! Save that crap for toothpaste.
Tricia Wentworth began writing at a young age but didn't realize it was her jam until after college. She is originally from small-town Nebraska. She currently resides in Texas with her husband, two sons, and English bulldog. When not reading, writing, or momming, she can be found squeezing in a run or feeding her sugar addiction by baking something ridiculously delicious.
Win an ebook copy of "The Culling"!
I keep a poetry book in my bathroom.
This fact might be TMI but it is the quickest way to convey my relationship with poetry. I consider poems a necessity, but I don’t take them too seriously. Poor poetry, so many people have learned to either dread or reverence it out of every day life. While children are given a steady diet of nursery rhymes, most adults rarely partake of the stuff.
This poem by Billy Collins explain the problem.
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Too many people see a poem as a problem to be solved, rather than a tasty morsel to be savored. Rather poetry should viewed as food for the soul. No one asks the meaning of a cookie. You simply eat one and enjoy the brown sugar, blending with salty butter and warm chocolate chips. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to form an opinion about whether you like a cookie or not, you taste it, maybe take another bite and you know. If you really like it, you share it with others. That’s how it should be with poetry.
Ray Bradbury once said that every aspiring writer should read a poem a day. “Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost.” Reading poetry is essential for writing prose. Because, to continue the cookie analogy, just as we are what we eat, we write what we read.
A mother stares at the screen of her phone. She has only minutes to herself before the toddler bursts through the bathroom door and needs her help, again. But she’s not scrolling down her Facebook feed, and she’s not dreaming on Pinterest. She’s scratching notes into a document on a story that she’s been slowly building up over for the last five years.
The story has her mind wandering while she washes her toddler’s hair. She listens to educational podcasts and Youtube videos instead of reality TV as she stirs a pot of dinner. She soaks in plot structures and pacing techniques, and character development so that in the last quiet hours of the night she might be able to weave it all together into something beautiful.
This is the life of a parent writer. We juggle, and dash, and work through our days so we can fulfill our divine roles as parents and wives/husbands and still fit in time to nurture this talent that brings us joy.
Writing a query letter can feel as daunting as drafting an entire book. How can you distill all the beautiful complexities of your book down into just a few sentences? Will my query sit at the bottom of a slush pile forever? How do I stand out?
I’m an acquisitions editor, which means I get to read queries and submissions daily. I’ve also been on the other side of submissions. As an author, I have received 72 rejection letters, 2 partial requests, 5 full requests and 2 book contracts from my own queries.
When I sent my first query in 2015, I remember feeling nervous at how I would handle the inevitable rejection letters. Someone told me to expect 100 “no’s” before I got a “yes”. I told myself that I wasn't going to quit querying my manuscript until I got 100+ no's. So, each time I got a rejection, I took a tally and felt excited that I was getting closer to my "yes".
I’ll admit, rejection still hurts even with a good perspective. But, querying is a numbers game. Perfectly publishable manuscripts are rejected every day. Don’t give up on your book before it reaches the right hands. Agents and editors are rooting for you to become their next favorite author!
As I honed my own query over the years, I realized that there was definitely a recipe to crafting a submission. I found a wonderful book called "From the Query to the Call" by Elana Johnson. If you are in the querying trenches, this e-book is a must-have. It taught me what editors and agents are looking for and how to simplify your novel into just two paragraphs.
Now that I’ve read so many different voices in a variety of query formats, it’s easier than ever for me to see what makes a query letter stand out in the slush pile. In this article, I'll give you formatting and content advice, then I have a few wonderful volunteers who submitted queries for critique. I'll go through these (already solidly written) critiques and point out what they did right and how they could make it even stronger.
Let's get started.
This week, we're hearing from author Molly Fennig about how parents can best help their children who aspire to publish their writing:
How have your parents supported you as a young author?
I wrote and (self-) published my first book my senior year of high school. My mom didn’t know about it until I was most of the way done and my dad didn’t know until I was right about to publish.
Although I did most of the writing on my own, there were things my parents did to help me as a writer (and others that I would recommend for parents of young writers).
For one, they read a lot to me growing and bought me books (including attaching their credit card to my kindle—amazing). We went to the bookstore together—some Saturdays we would go to this cafe called Bread and Chocolate (to get chocolate croissants) and then go to the bookstore next door.
My mom read all of my papers (if I asked her) for school, so I felt comfortable having her read my creative writing. The key is to give positive feedback to start and end, give negative feedback that is helpful, and know what your child wants from you (likely its support and encouragement at first and then help with edits or more technical issues rather than just praise).
I live in a college town, so I’m neighbors and friends with a few students. One of them learned I’m a writer and told me she was enrolled in a class that anyone was free to audit. Thanks to her, I’ve been taking a class from Brandon Sanderson. Yes, THE Brandon Sanderson. If you’re not sure who he is, it’s about time you got your hands on one of his books. Even if they’re not your cup of tea, you’ll still be appreciate the level of detail that goes into his worldbuilding.
Anyway, for most of the semester, Sanderson taught about worldbuilding, plot, and character, which are all well and good. But the last couple of weeks were focused on the business of writing--who the Big 5 are, things you should look out for in a publishing contract, royalty rates, and how to get an agent--or if you even should. This business info was exactly what I needed, and since I’m looking to get myself an agent this year, I was especially grateful to hear the facts about them. As a #1 New York Times Bestselling author with a handful of different series in the works at any given time, Sanderson knows a thing or two about the industry and what it takes to navigate a book deal, so I took furious notes on the topic.
Why get an agent at all? They’re supposed to give authors a leg up on their way to traditional publishing, but a writer can approach acquisitions editors and make it through the slush pile without one, and they do it all the time nowadays! Our writing group has been just fine without them thus far: Rachel Huffmire got her foot in the door, traditionally publishing “Shattered Snow” without an agent by pitching it at a writing conference. Bree Moore, the president of our writing group, is self-published (and doing a marvelous job of it, by the way), so she doesn’t need an agent to represent her interests to a third party.
If you can go without an agent, shouldn’t you?
The time comes with every manuscript when you need to share it with someone else before publishing it. That someone could be your spouse, best friend, writing group, beta reader, a pitch with an editor or agent, or a first chapter contest judge. There will be times when one of these critique partners makes a suggestion that doesn't sit well with you. You'll be left with a bucket of insecurity, wondering whether to make changes based on the suggestions or to keep the manuscript as-is. It can be especially crippling when the person commenting is close to you, like a family member, or someone you perceive as having authority in the writing profession, like an editor or already-published author.
Receiving critiques is difficult. No one enjoys hearing they have more work to do, especially after doing something that took a lot of work. But we all have something to learn and improve on, whether it's our first manuscript or our fifteenth, whether we are published or not.
We don't improve when we ignore everything our critique partners tell us. They can be incredibly valuable, teaching us more than we could ever learn otherwise. Even unhelpful comments can teach us things like who isn't our niche reader, or if a part of the story is not quite right (even if their wrong about why). Get multiple critique partners (or, better yet, a writing group), and take their comments with a fat grain of salt.
This article will discuss what makes a critique “wrong” or unhelpful, what to do when you realize a critique isn't right for you, how to respond to a critique partner who frequently gives unhelpful feedback, and how know when to follow a critique.
I’m just about the most outlying example of balancing a home life and a writing career.
I have nine children. Rachel Huffmire, one of the founders of Writing Through Brambles, grew up in a situation of nine children and can probably tell you a lot about what that means for a family—it is not a small task managing the schedules, needs, and resources associated with a family of this size.
Add to it that I’ve chosen to publish independently. Any successful indie author will give you a long lecture about the importance of publishing fast. Fast releases are integral to the indie author’s marketing model. You keep an audience by making sure there are no more than 90 days between each release. Part of this has to do with the natural drop-off in audience interest and part of it has to do with Amazon algorithms. Because you are entirely on your own and your writing basically IS your marketing, this is important if you want to make a living. (Eventually. I’m not quite there yet. You don’t tend to get much for your work until you’ve got three books out in a series.)
Then, factor in the fact I’m publishing adult fantasy. Adult fantasy audiences want a high word count, 100,000 words or higher, or they feel a bit cheated. This makes sense. In order to have a satisfying experience with worldbuilding, plot, and character development, an adult audience wants a long book. This is a bit counter-intuitive for authors dealing with agents and traditional publishing houses. A long word count is a risk of investment for a big publisher, especially when dealing with a new author. So when you’re querying agents, you’re told to keep your word-count tightly around 90,000-100,000 for full-length, epic fantasy. And even then, expect to really sell it to have them take a risk on a word-count that high (printing costs).
It’s different in the indie world. More words in a book = a higher number of kindle unlimited page reads after an initial reading investment in your story and thus better profits. Like I said, what the epic fantasy audience actually wants is bigger books.
All this adds up to my task: trying to make it as an indie author in my chosen genre, with the natural workload I have as a mother of nine = nearly impossible.
How do I do it?
Simply put, it’s two things that often elicit groans and arguments from authors: outlines and word counts.
I know some will read this and say “nooooo”. No outlines. No word counts.
So, let me explain how this works for me. I’m actually the last person this should work for, because I’m a pantser extreme. I feel my writing. I’m not formulaic, I don’t stick easily to genre niches and I am an emotional writer.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.